Jordan Ryan Pedersen ne parle pas français.
During a recent session for France 3, the band – Le Super Mojo – sways back and forth hypnotically. A double-clap punctuates every other measure. The center of their circle is conspicuously empty. And then in walks their maestro, in loose-fitting chinos, a silk shirt, and a fedora. (Pat Kalla is on the shortlist of men who can pull off a fedora.) I’m sure the band’s choreography was rehearsed. But the music is so groovy that I like to imagine Kalla’s players simply couldn’t help themselves.
The Lyon-based Kalla got his start as a member of Voilaaa, an French-Afro-disco collective led by producer Bruno “Patchworks” Hovart. For comparison’s sake, think of Voilaaa as Dr. Dre’s Compton, and Kalla as Anderson Paak. Just as Paak’s appearances on Compton launched his solo career, Kalla’s superb takes on Voilaaa’s 2017 record Des Promesses act as a jumping-off point for Jongler, his debut full-length. And, whew, what a debut it is.
Jongler finds Kalla cycling through a panoply of African music genres – not just the relatively ubiquitous Afro-pop, but also Ghanese high-life, Angolan Semba, and Cameroonian makossa. (Jongler translates to “juggle,” which is perfectly on-the-nose.) For a lesser artist, this might have resulted in something that feels like a sampler platter. But Kalla manages to keep things coherent. He’s the rare artist who can synthesize his forebears to create something singular, rather than simply regurgitating influences.
The infectious hop on “Ça va aller,” the fireside chuk-a-chuka of “Laissez-moi danser” – which recalls Angolan singer Bonga, who I discovered through Portuguese DJ Batida – and the irresistible title track were my favorites. But Jongler doesn’t have a bum cut. Dark horse AOTY candidate.